Jean Sheptoff and Mia Frigon on Putting the Horses First
Jean Sheptoff is a nationally recognized amateur hunter and jumper rider based out of Littleton, Massachusetts. She manages Newbury Farm alongside her husband and trainer, Cory Hardy, while competing in the amateur/owner hunter, amateur/owner high jumper, and Grand Prix jumper divisions around the United States.
Growing up, she rode with the highly regarded trainer Timmy Kees, who successfully brought her to competitions such as the USEF Medal Finals, the USET East Coast Medal Finals, and the Maclay Regionals. In the winter, you can find her taking care of the horses at her winter farm in Wellington, Florida, while also competing at the Wellington International Winter Equestrian Festival.
Managing the Newbury Farm horses inspired her to find alternative supplements with a whole food approach, which were more effective than the more popular supplements on the market. Maintaining a strong focus on gut health for her athletic horses, she looks to BioStar to assist in keeping her horses in tip-top, show-ready shape.
Mia Frigon is a seventeen year-old junior hunter/jumper rider based out of Sudbury, Massachusetts, riding at Newbury Farm with Jean’s husband, Cory Hardy. A student at the Upper Echelon Academy, Mia has competed at some of the nation’s most prestigious and competitive shows, such as the National Horse Show Maclay Finals, the USEF Medal Finals, and the New England Equitation Championships. Mia recently committed to the Georgia University Division 1 equestrian team. Jean guides her on horse care and management when competing at shows and riding at home. Her horse, Brady, has seen great success with BioStar supplements.
You started riding at three years old; what was the most important lesson you learned while riding through your junior career?
Always put the horses first; their care always comes first. You’re always going to have good days and bad showing, but at the end of the day, the horses are always the most important thing. You know, it’s easy to get caught up … in competition, showing, and results. The horses are our partners, and their wellbeing is always the number one thing to me.
What about your upbringing in the equestrian industry makes your early career stand out from other junior riders?
You know, I started young. From the time I was 12, I rode with Timmy Kees [in Connecticut], who I’m still good friends with. But I always kept my horses at a backyard-type barn and did all the care myself, so I think always being involved in that aspect of it, even though I was showing at a high level then, really taught me a lot and gave me a different perspective that wasn’t just involved in the riding …. So, I think being a well-rounded horseman, having different types of horses to ride, and doing a lot of the training on my own taught me to be a better rider and horse person.
Do you think that upbringing gave you a certain level of grit and determination that maybe other riders didn’t have?
Absolutely. I feel like it made me work harder and [taught me] to work through things if I had horses that had challenges. I think it gave me the knowledge and the patience to work through those things,, and to not always have unrealistic expectations when it came to the horses …. It can be a frustrating sport; there are always ups and downs, and it’s never a linear progression, even if you’re having a great season or show. The sport is always up and down. It’s very humbling.
Your WEF 2023 season started with a win in the A/O 36 & Over Hunter division; how did this victory set the tone for the remainder of the season?
It’s my sixth Florida season with the horse I have, Verdict, and he’s always been an amazing horse. I feel very lucky to have him, and he was great all circuit. You know, by the end of the circuit he was a hair tired, but he’s a great partner. He’s always super consistent. He’s been amazing. He was champion during the Hunter Week also, so I got to do the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular on him.
What was it like riding in the WCHR Hunter Spectacular in the International Arena?
Verdict was great. He’s so brave … It was a very competitive class, but he was terrific in it. It’s always an honor to even do that class, even though it was my fourth time doing it. It was really cool. When you walk in the ring, it’s a lot of atmosphere, and Verdict definitely was a little more aware of that than he normally is, but he never does anything wrong. He’s perfect.
Tell us a little bit about the rest of your string of horses.
[I have] another young hunter, who is actually by the same stallion as Verdict. His name is All Rise, so we kind of stuck with the same theme, and he’s amazing. He’s turning six, but he is so brave. He did his first international derby [this season]. He actually won the handy hunter last week, so he’s really a fun project. I think he’s got a great brain, too. I just moved him up to the 3’6” this year, but he never really did the pre-greens or the green hunters, because he’s so brave that he can just go do whatever. And then I have a new jumper this year – the spicy chestnut mare that I’ve been doing in the mediums. I got to do one high class on her, and she’s a lot of fun. I got her from Emil [Spadone] of Redfield Farm. So, lots of good showing this WEF, and the mare was great all season. I love her; she’s fun.
What are some of the benefits of riding in a circuit like the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) while doing most of the grunt work yourself?
For us, WEF is nice, because once we’re here, we’re established, versus the rest of the year when we’re schlepping from show to show. It’s great for the horses, because you can show in the morning, and then they’re out in the paddock in the afternoon. I also think it’s great that you can get some momentum and sort of build up. With my jumper, I was able to get to know her and then move up and do a 1.40m class, whereas if you’re going to a show for a week, you don’t really have that build-up period. Taking care of my horses myself, [which is] day-in and day-out and week after week, you kind of know how they’re feeling. From the management perspective, it [allows me] to stay on top of their veterinary care and maintenance to always try to keep them feeling their best. It is a lot of showing down here, and we try to do two weeks in a row, and then give the horses a week off. It’s always important for them to have some rest in between when it is such a long circuit.
What are some of the benefits you see in your horses’ health when allowing paddock time outside?
First and foremost, [we do it] for their brains; horses aren’t meant to be standing in their stalls 24/7. So, I think, for their brains, it’s important. Also, just for their bodies to be walking around and moving. We’re lucky that we have grass paddocks here, so I feel like that’s good for their gut health, too, and their all-around well-being.
You mentor young rider Mia Frigon; how important is it to you to mentor a junior rider in her efforts to become an accomplished horse woman?
She really cares about the day-in and day-out processes and what goes into keeping her horses going and taking care of them. For me and Cory, it’s motivating for us… We got into this because we love horses, and we want to provide kids with certain experiences that we had growing up. It’s nice to have someone like Mia that wants to work so hard and care so much about her horses. It’s not so much about the riding and the results for her, but the process of keeping her horses at their best. She works hard!
What are some of the most important lessons you and Cory try to teach Mia?
Putting the horses first, the care of the horses… letting them tell you what we should be doing. We never want to push the horses too much, if they are feeling a little sore or need a break. I think putting the horses’ well-being first and being an overall good person are things we try to practice to then share with her.
When were you first introduced to the BioStar products? What about them were you interested in?
I want to say four years ago now… definitely years ago. I [liked] that there’s a little bit of a holistic and well-being approach for the horse… Our equine physiotherapist for the horses first introduced it for gut health issues. Other products that are on the market might affect other aspects of the horse’s stomach, but the BioStar products are a little bit more natural and better for the horses’ overall health. That’s how I was introduced to them and why I like them.
What BioStar products do you use on your horses? What do you like about these products?
I use the Thera-Gard EQ for their stomachs; I have the paste and the powder. I like the Alixir EQ paste, especially when they’re showing a lot, just for recovery. And then I have Sunn-E 1000, which I find that they absorb that better, it works better than the traditional powder Vitamin E supplements. Oh, and the Zen-Max paste; we use that on Mia’s horse, and I do feel like that helps him and the high energy horses relax a little bit. The Remedium Nadi EQ: I feel like down here [in Florida], we have to walk up to the horse show a bit, and they get a little foot sore, and I like that for helping to prevent their feet getting sore. Those are the main ones.
Have you seen any noticeable changes in your horses since beginning the use of BioStar products?
I feel like there have been, especially with the gut health products. I think that that would be the biggest [change] that I’ve seen… We did have one horse, Hudson, that had a little colic episode earlier this season, and I have him on the Thera-Gard EQ, and, knock on wood, he’s been good since then. I manage the care of the horses, and his stomach has been better since being on that. This year, having more on the Remedium Nadi, we haven’t had a lot of sore feet. Overall, I feel like these keep the horses feeling at their best… We have a young horse, a 6-year-old, that can be a little opinionated at times, so I actually have him on the Zen-Max. The past few weeks that the kid has shown him, he’s been better; he had the a little issue with the gate when they first started riding him, and he’s been better about that the past few times the kid showed him.
Anything else you would like to add about BioStar?
We enjoy the products, and they work well. I think it’s nice that they’re on the market and that we have that kind of option. They’re easy to get; you don’t need a prescription, and you just order them online.
How long have you been riding with Jean and Cory at Newbury Farm?
I’ve been riding with them for about five years now; I started riding with them when I was 12, and I’m going to be 17 on Tuesday.
What has been your greatest accomplishment while riding with Jean and Cory?
I think my greatest accomplishment was when I was either 10th at New England Finals or when I was 9th at Regionals [Fieldstone Show Park] this year. I would probably say my 9th [place] at Regionals, because I was with Brady, who we all kind of brought along ourselves together. Jean and Cory have been role models for me, ever since I moved to them, in both riding and life. I’m so grateful to have them!
What are some of your favorite lessons that Jean and Cory have taught you?
They always teach me to put the horse first; it’s always about the horse. I feel like the biggest thing is when you have a bad day at the horse show, it’s always important to come back and be able to take care of your horse. That’s what makes riding as fun as it is for me.
What’s the first thing you do with your horses after a long day of showing?
Usually, I’ll give them a break in their stalls, since they’ve been at the show all day, and let them eat and pee and drink a little bit. Then I’ll give them a bath and put ice on their legs. We’ll also use the green jelly and wrap their legs.
You recently verbally committed to the University of Georgia Equestrian Team; how has riding under Jean and Cory helped you get to this point?
It’s always been a huge dream of mine to ride at Georgia, and Jean and Cory have obviously taught me how to ride. They’ve been so helpful through the process of trying to get there and… telling me that I can do it at times when I thought that maybe I couldn’t. They’re a huge support.
Tell us about the grit and determination that was required in order to compete in the Maclay Finals this year.
This was my second Maclay Finals this year, and I feel like it’s always nerve wracking for everyone; it’s such a big venue. But, I feel like it wasn’t as nerve wracking this year, because I trusted my horse, and I knew that we were going to go through the jumps no matter what, and we were going to be fine. It took a lot of work to get there throughout the years, but it was great, and it was a lot of fun.
Tell us a little about your current string of horses. How have they helped you get to the point where you are now?
I have Brady, who is my equitation horse. He is nine this year. I’ve had him for two years now, and he’s awesome. He will never let you down; he’s amazing. Then I have my jumper, Iris, who is awesome; I love her so much. She’s spicy, but she’s so fun to ride. Sometimes I get run away with, but that’s okay! And then I have Massimo, who is actually Jean and Cory’s, that I just showed for this circuit. He’s definitely taught me a lot about riding lazier horses, because I’m not the best at that, and being fluid with my arms. And then I have Fury (Infuria P&P), which is the jumper I just got. She’s been awesome; she’s given me a lot of confidence.
Brady has taught me to be patient, for sure, just being a younger horse. I mean, they all have taught me patience. Iris has taught me to be strong but to also be soft at the same time. My other horse, Edelman, who is in the field right now, has taught me how to be smooth, if that makes sense. They all teach me something new every day to help [me] further my riding.
What do you like about BioStar?
The Zen-Max – it’s helped Brady a lot, and we actually used it at Maclay Finals. I feel that really calms him, because sometimes in the ring, like for the USET, if he hears the buzzer, he starts getting a little cranked up. Zen-Max has really helped him be quieter in the ring, and he’s definitely more focused, instead of looking at other things in the ring. Also, it’s really improved his gut health; he hasn’t really had any issues with ulcers or anything. He’s been great on that.
Photo credits: Hannah Kinlaw at Phelps Media Group